DT Warren Sapp watched Friday's practice from the sideline, but Head Coach Tony Dungy still hopes he'll be ready for the Saints game
Is Sunday's matchup with the New Orleans Saints the biggest game of the year for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? You wouldn't get any argument from inside One Buccaneer Place.
Obviously, the Bucs would like to be at full strength on such a pivotal afternoon. Even during the holiday season, though, you don't always get everything you want.
"You want to have everybody, but that's the nature of the NFL in Week 14," said Head Coach Tony Dungy. "You don't always have everbody, and if you don't, the next guy has to step in."
The holiday gift the Bucs may not be getting this week is the sufficiently speedy recovery of defensive tackle Warren Sapp's left shoulder sprain. On Friday, Sapp missed his third practice in a row and was ominously downgraded to 'questionable' on the official injury report.
Under the NFL system, 'questionable' technically means the player has a 50-50 chance of playing, though sometimes his condition is clearly weighted one way or another. In Sapp's case, the tag seems to fit, as coaches, trainers and number 99 himself are unsure what to predict.
"We'll see," said Sapp in a brief statement after Friday's 90-minute practice. "It doesn't feel good right now."
Sapp suffered the injury during the second half of Sunday's game in Chicago and was unable to play much of the fourth quarter. When he missed Wednesday's practice, then Thursday's, the team remained hopeful that he would practice the next afternoon, but he hadn't shown sufficient progress by Friday morning to be cleared for contact.
"It wasn't as good today as we had hoped," Dungy admitted. "We thought he'd be able to go today and get some work in. He wasn't quite ready to go but we still think he'll be able to go by Sunday. We'll see. It will probably be a game-time decision.
"He's still got a little pain in there and it wasn't quite as good as we had hoped at this point."
The team has one more on-field get-together Friday morning, but it is a short, half-speed walk-through that won't have much bearing on Sapp's readiness. The moment of truth will probably come some time Sunday morning after the four-time Pro Bowler arrives at Raymond James Stadium.
"He'll know and our doctors will know at that point," said Dungy. "We're not going to take a risk, obviously. If it's still painful and he can't get it done, we'll just go to the next man."
That would be fourth-year veteran James Cannida, who backs up both tackle spots and started two games at nose tackle earlier this season when Anthony McFarland was hurt. First-year player Chartric Darby, perhaps a more natural backup at Sapp's position, would also see significant playing time and rookie swingman Ellis Wyms would be activated for additional help.
"We'll put them all in there," said Dungy, whose gut feeling was that Sapp would be ready. "We've done it in the past."
Sapp's inaction was the bad news on Friday, but the other defensive starter struggling with an injury, cornerback Ronde Barber, was able to return and practiced without incident. "Ronde actually did pretty well and that's what we'd hoped for," said Dungy.
Center/guard Todd Washington, who suffered a knee sprain during a running drill on Thursday, wasn't much better on Friday and has been added to the injury report as questionable. He received an MRI examination early in the day and spent the afternoon getting treatment on the knee, but there is significant concern that he'll be unable to go on Sunday.
The Bucs are reserving judgment on Washington's status until Saturday, but a roster move might be necessary if he is deemed unready. Washington backs up all three interior line spots and the team usually keeps only one player active for those three roles. Specifically, there isn't another player on the 53-man roster that has practiced regularly at center. To fill that void, the team would probably look for a way to get practice squad lineman Shane Grice, another swingman, back on the active roster.
Wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson also sat out Friday's session after practicing fully on Wednesday and Thursday. Johnson has a right ankle sprain but is 'probable' on the injury report, and Friday's decision to put him on the sideline was merely precautionary.
"He actually did a lot of work yesterday and we wanted him to get a rest and get 48 hours until Sunday," said Dungy. "But he should be fine."
Johnson has played in all 13 Buc games and been a big-time contributor every weekend, despite a litany of injuries. Sapp has also played in every game and has performed extremely well, but his streak is definitely in jeopardy this weekend